Wearables are here to stay. With chips getting smaller and the world getting more connected, wearables seem to be an unavoidable part of the future we’re headed into. However, narrowing down to the watch section of wearables, a large share of it is either Apple Watches or dedicated fitness trackers. WearOS just doesn’t seem to make its mark. [source]
While a lot of factors do play into the slow growth and doubtful future, it’s fair to say a lot of it can boil down to incompetent hardware, frustrating software updates and performance, and the general seeming disinterest from manufacturers and the OS creators. Let’s break each one down.
WearOS’s hardware situation currently is honestly laughable. Sometimes it’s surprising to see the leaps we get in mobile processor power every year and the stagnation in watch processors. The large majority of the smartwatches in 2019 as I write this are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 2100, released way back in February 2016. If you need perspective, Obama was still president, Harambe was alive and One Direction were still on the charts. And while it might have been the chip to fulfil the needs of the day, it just wasn’t built to last. So as time flew and watches slowed down, the people grew restless. But then there were rumours, and then hope, a new chip was in the works. Could this be the one to save the platform? Well, the fact you’re reading this article is enough proof that nothing changed.
Everyone seemed hyped for the new 3100 chips. After all, newer chips would generally mean faster processing and substantial improvements, right? That’s all the people wanted. That, and an actual usable OS, but let’s get to that later. So, what went wrong?
Simply put, the Snapdragon 3100 barely did justice to a full chip update. It still housed the older 2100 processor with a new coprocessor.
Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to see that WearOS hardware wasn’t all forgotten, but somehow, the improved battery life on Ambient Display and better GPS connectivity wasn’t exactly going to be the white knight when the processing power was still the same.
In the meantime, Apple had released 3 versions of their Watch S chips, each one better than the other. WearOS watch manufacturers couldn’t seem less bothered to push for actual improvements. Also, considering Fossil and Huawei were the only ones that actually put out watches frequently, there just wasn’t enough innovation to justify selling more watches.
Let’s talk software. Tl;dr — Lack of game-changing updates, updates that slowed down the experience, and constant server-side changes that divided the community, made WearOS frustrating to manage.
Remember when all we had was simple Android Wear? Pepperidge farm remembers.
Android Wear was good but limited, but let’s talk about the switch from Android Wear to WearOS. It wasn’t just a name rebranding, it signified major changes in the industry.
First of all, let’s take up something Google actually did well. They modularised WearOS. They could send out UI updates and security fixes from the Play Store. They seemed to have learnt a lot from what went wrong with Android and depending on OEMs and tried to fix that up.
However, on the flip side, WearOS is just not the companion we want it to be. Assistant on WearOS makes Bixby look good. Voice controls haven’t gotten better, and in some cases, were broken for many people for weeks!
Updates were still pretty fragmented. While the UI changes with WearOS 2.0 rolled out to a lot of watches, including the older ones (can confirm on my Moto 360 Gen 2), major updates like the Update H that improved battery and security, were still OEM dependant and while understandably a lot of the older watches were left behind, the newer ones were barely trickling with updates too.
On the topic, while it’s not a major problem, server-side switches are a major annoyance to the users. They divide the community, cause a lot of discussion on how to get the update ( check the 50,000 threads on r/WearOS about the Tiles update) and in general can be avoided if they do a smaller server-side test and release it to the public than slowly release it over a period of several weeks.
WearOS was constantly plagued with connection issues, notification mirroring problems, actions not being performed on the phone and many such issues that broke the basic functionality of a smartwatch at its core and for these reasons, you can see why a lot of users were left disappointed and annoyed at the platform as it “progressed”.
Finally, a HUGE reason why people are sceptical about this platform is that sometimes it looks like nobody gives a hoot.
When you’re investing in a smartwatch or any device for that matter, you do it only when you know you’re getting something out of it. That includes a path in the future for improvements and updates and constant support for at least a fixed duration. You just don’t see that at the moment with WearOS.
There is no competition for chips, which puts no pressure on Qualcomm for any major development in a faster schedule.
There are very few solid manufacturers out there constantly making reliable smartwatches. Companies like fossil give hope for the future of the platform. The Fossil sport might be the best smartwatch at the moment of writing this article, and the only solid competitor to the Apple Watch. Adding to the list are Huawei and sometimes LG, but apart from that, it’s tough to name any other company that has rolled out mention-worthy watches since Moto stopped making watches.
Hey Motorola, if you’re reading this, maybe consider making smartwatches again? You can’t mess up worse than you did with the Moto Mods
Finally, and probably the most important one, we don’t know what Google has planned. They have a reputation for building tech and killing them. Seriously, ask your friends on Allo.
Google has done little to take initiative for the platform. People have long awaited major feature releases or at the very least keynotes mentioning the path laid out for the future. There have been no mentions of WearOS at the Google I/O — The one place where you rely on them to tell you what they have planned for the future. Just like they did with the Nexus devices, building a device that shows off the best of the platform, there needs to be a Pixel watch soon that captures all the features.
Google needs to step up their game here. They have very few excuses, but the biggest one is that they probably don’t really care too much at the moment and if that is truly the case, then we have a major roadblock on the path of development of WearOS.
WearOS has a lot of fans around the world. The fact that millions use these devices despite the flaws shows that people are willing to bear with it because we really want these devices to work out and improve for everyone. There’s a long road ahead for sure, but we need a definitive sign that there, in fact, is a road ahead and it’s all not a mirage.
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